Welcome to St Matthew’s Church in Morley, Derbyshire.
LOOKING BACK IN GRATITUDE
The late, much loved Bishop Jonathan once asked me, “What’s a feminist like you doing in a religious community?”
I replied that I thought a religious community was a very feminist organisation. We are a self-governing group of women who do not answer to any male superior (not even the bishop!). Sisters will undertake any tasks of which we are capable, whether they are defined as ‘women’s jobs’ or not. We do not organise our lives or design our appearance to appeal to men or to follow fashion.
On my mother’s first visit to the convent, when I was preparing to enter, she said in astonishment, “That’s the convent? But the gate’s open!” There is a persistent belief that Sisters are locked in to prevent escape. Nothing could be further from the truth; we are a mission community, and we are encouraged to make contacts in ‘the world’, both to give help where it is needed, with no strings attached, and to draw others to Jesus by their own free choice.
As a result of being in the Community, I have come to know many different places where I might not otherwise have been. I have learned to love Newcastle, a very traditional place where people have deep roots and can find change threatening, and Basingstoke, with its large population of Londoners abruptly transplanted to a community which found it hard to accept and learn to relate to them. Church life and culture there was new and exciting, and some Sisters did not know what had hit them.
Along the way, much to my surprise, I have had three spells in college, the last one in preparation for ordination. I was very happy that another of our English Sisters (Sister Diana, whom some of you will know from Breadsall) was ordained soon after, and also one of our Zulu Sisters. Sadly, she died very young, and at present we have no ordained Sisters in Africa.
Another opportunity that came my way as a result of being in the Community was my 13 years on General Synod. Inexplicably to most of my Sisters, I love meetings, and this was a really exciting time to be there as we made history by passing the legislation for women bishops.
Since ordination I have had the great privilege of presiding at sacramental worship, especially the Eucharist, and coming to know more fully the immense contribution made by the hard and often unrecognised work done by faithful lay people. I shall always be grateful for the experience I have had in Morley and Smalley, the good friends I have found here, and the clergy who have encouraged and supported me.
Not a feminist option? I leave you to judge!
Sister Rosemary CHN